Defining "Squelchers"

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 15, 2008

From Richard Florida's Who's Your City? (Random House Canada 2008), p. 181:

Jane Jacobs once told me that communities everywhere are filled with creative vigor, but that some of them are run by squelchers.

Squelchers are control freaks who think they know what's best for the city or region, even as their leadership (or lack thereof) causes a hemorrhage of bright, talented, and creative people.

Squelchers, she said, are the kind of leaders that use the word "no" a lot. They constantly put roadblocks in the way of community energy and initiatives.

I've seen firsthand how these squelchers drain the life and energy from their communities. They respond to new ideas with phrases like "That's not how we do things here"; "That will never fly"; or "Why don't you move someplace you'll be happy?"

I often wonder what our nation would look like if all the squelchers in our communities were to be suddenly - and magically - exposed and immobilized. Would there be anyone left at the tops of many local governments? Perhaps then we could finally unleash the positive energy that real civic engagement both inspires and needs. [paragraph breaks added]

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 16, 2008 at 12:34:31

Sad. P.J. O'Rourke used to be one of the last intelligent, and funny, conservatives. I suppose he was trying to be funny here as well, but he comes across like a College Republican writing in the school newspaper of a middling college. He sure has fallen a long way from the Algonquin.

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By adam (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2008 at 00:06:11

LRT is not only good for "tree-hugging hippies" but also good for "self-serving captalists". In other cities that install LRT, businesses begin popping up around LRT lines and business owners become more profitable. The auto industry has the most to lose if it is employed on a grand scale. I think our goal should be to focus on getting a small segment of light rail to start. Baby steps, then add to it as we go.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 17, 2008 at 11:12:39

I hear you Ryan. Conservative politicians bear the lion's share of the responsibility for the cheapening of the conservative 'brand', but we can't let conservative thinkers off the hook either. I wasn't being snarky when I said "sad". I really do miss the intelligent conservative commentators of yore. Gone are the William F. Buckleys, and O'Rourke is all but gone as well. In their place we have what, Dinesh D'Souza, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg? Yeesh. I hope O'Rourke is directing some of his bitterness toward them as well, and not just the rubes who implemented conservative policy. (Someone called them the 'Mayberry Machiavellis', I can't think of a more apt description.)

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:28:54

It's worth noting that although there are definite issues with "squelchers", there are a lot of times when saying "no" is in the best interests of a city.

Need I remind you that Jane Jacobs herself has been active in anti-expressway demonstrations, and has written at length about the value of preserving old buildings.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:52:10

I think the issue is people who say "no" to good ideas that are based on factual research and are already proven to really work well in other cities. People who are afraid of change, who get rich off the status quo, people who say things like "If you don't like it why don't you leave?"

It's squelchers who insult activists and urbanists and people who care enough to go to meetings and ask questions and try to make our government accountable. It was squelchers who insulted Joanna chappman for daring to ask whether Larry Diianni broke municipal election law.

Sometimes squelchers squelch efforts to stop bad ideas too. It was squelchers who said there was no way to restore the Lister Building without demolishing and rebuilding it.

Squelchers are people who don't want YOU to get involved in their backroom decisions on how to run the city, they just want you to mind your own business and stop asking inconvenient questions.

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 18:57:01

WRCU2 asks us not to name any squelchers, saying that would be such a waste. Fair enough!
So I sat down at my desk and attempted to name the "non-squelchers'. I gave up after half an hour, the page is still blank. HELP!

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